Monday, March 23, 2009
It is the day that I unleash my full Jester style show on the world. (Well, the people of Buckingham anyway) - I decided that for my first Fool's day in the role of Buckingham Town Jester I needed something special to mark the occasion. So, I spoke to the staff at the Old Gaol and secured their covered courtyard room. There I shall perform my show for a strictly limited audience of up to 45 people. (I still have some tickets left)
Why? Well, it seems appropriate that those who wish to can actually spend their April Fool's Day with a genuine fool. An official fool none the less! (Proud moment) Also, I am going to be donating all of the money from tickets to the The Buckingham Heritage Trust and the Old Gaol. They are having a lot of work done in May to preserve the Gaol for years to come. I want to be a part of that process and help in any way that I can. Hopefully the money we raise will help the continued running of one of the most interesting and unique buildings in Buckinghamshire.
I love the Old Gaol. I think it is a fantastic building. Over the coming months it is my intention to appear within its walls more often and perform for various events. John, the Curator, has been very helpful to me and very supportive since I first became the Jester. He has freely offered his toilets for changing costume and general relief, opened his doors to shelter me from the rain when my market appearances become too soggy to continue and most importantly he has offered his tea making facilities to me. It is about time I give something back and thank him and his staff for their kindness and work in the community.
I have a three week season coming up in London where I shall be performing my Jester show daily. So this opportunity is for me to get a lot of the material tested. Fear not! It won't be shoddy, half complete, badly routined rubbish. I have worked hard in my studio over the last month to ensure that it is as good as it can be. It is now at the point where it cannot get better without input, reactions and real world timing.
For those of you that have booked tickets to see me already, thank you very much for supporting me and for supporting Buckingham Heritage at The Old Gaol. Hopefully the Mayor and his good lady wife will be in attendance too. I am working on getting various press from the local paper there too. It should be a good evening of magic and mirth, press coverage, refreshments and fund raising.
If you are in the area on April 1st (it's a Wednesday) please do come along. Let me know in advance so I can book your ticket in for you. It starts at around 6:30pm. There is free parking too! What more could you ask for?
Thursday, March 19, 2009
When I tell people what I do as my 'day job' I am generally met by two stock responses. Firstly (and most frequently) people think that it is a fantastic idea and something worthwhile. (I am inclined to agree, although I am somewhat bias) There is however a small number of people that are a bit more sceptical and more 'purists' when it comes to medical treatment. I was talking to one lady about what I did and she replied "Don't you just get in the way?" to which I replied "No, I am a professional, I come in, I go to my designated area and I do my show and leave, if they need me to move I move, if they need me to set up somewhere different, that is what I do. No fuss, no hassle, just compliance on every level" or words to that effect (I don't think I was actually that direct) - anyway I quickly removed her naive ignorance and she actually came around to thinking that the idea was a good one.
I did meet another lady (why is it the middle aged female population seem to have an issue with fun?) and she was certain that although "nice" (I do hate that word) my role within the hospital did not actually serve any real purpose and the time could be much better spent actually doing therapy and treatment on the children instead. This took a lot more persuasion and I don't think I did a very good job. However, I have been thinking about it a lot today as I travelled home from Chelsea and Westminster Hospital.
Firstly, you cannot treat children every minute of every hour of every day. Sometimes it is not appropriate as drugs and medication need time to work, sometimes they need relief from the discomfort of the healing process and also they need to generally eat, sleep, go to the hospital school and allow the staff to treat the other sick children. So, in hospital, a lot of their day is actually spent waiting. There is only so much time can be occupied by watching TV or doing colouring in and painting and playing with the toys and jigsaws that people have donated to the hospital. I come in during the day, usually just after or just before lunch (when naturally no new treatments would be started so as not to interrupt the nourishment or so that the food has been processed before new medication is given) and perform for them. I spent 1 hour in each hospital, I do some magic, I make some balloons and I generally try and distract them from the pain they are in or the boredom they are experiencing.
Does it help? Yes, I am utterly convinced that laughter is good for you. It is so good to see the children smiling and laughing when I know they are (some of them) so ill. It is a good feeling that I am making their day a little more diverse and a little brighter. I remember once I was at Oxford JR Hospital and I performed for one little girl at her bedside. She was too ill to come down to the playroom and so I spent some time with her and her parents in the comfort of her own room. To start with she was very quiet and reluctant to join in with the magic (it was obvious that she was not at all well) but I carried on. I made my balloon animals and did my tricks and left. By the end of the routine she was joining in, smiling and at one point she even managed a little laugh. One of the nurses came over to me and said "Thank you so much, she has not said a word since she came into hospital two days ago" - it was an amazing feeling. Here was a little girl that was so ill and scared that she had not spoken for 2 days, not even to her own parents. Here was me, a complete stranger doing a silly job wearing a silly costume, coming in and breaking up the day and giving her something to smile about. As I was walking out of the door I heard her chattering away to her parents. Laughter had broken the cycle and she was obviously more upbeat than when I had arrived.
I suppose it is true within my own life too. If I am feeling ill or utterly exhausted but know I need to be somewhere or do something and need to get my energy level back up - I always turn to my collection of comedy DVDs and get cheered up by the likes of Michael McIntyre and Bill Bailey. I am lucky that I can do that in the comfort of my own bed and not away from my family in a hospital bed.
Laughter is very important. It can make us feel good, it can distract us from any pain we are suffering, it can connect us with others on a new level and it can make us feel relaxed and at ease. Laughter is a good thing. I am very pleased to be an exporter of it.
Please spare a thought for POD - they are a charity run totally off of the donations of the public. You can find out more about them and the work that they do at www.podcharity.org.uk - and if you feel the call you can donate online too. Make some children happy at your local hospital.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Mr Lloyd is coming in with the questions at the moment. I really appreciate it as it gives me something to ponder and suggests that someone is interested in what I am scrawling onto these pages. Mr Lloyd actually asked this question a few days ago and I did not update my blog immediately as I was trying to actually formulate some sort of answer that both did the job of answering the question but one that I was also very happy with. So, what was that question posing the most elusive of answers? Who would be the Jesters of today? Hmm, whom could I Jester with, whom would wear the old cap'n'bells well. Has stand-up comedy taken over from where Jesters faded out.
Monday, March 9, 2009
Best of all, it took me all around the local counties, performing for a whole range of children from those of working class backgrounds to those of a more privileged existence. One party sticks in my mind in particular. I believe we were in High Wycombe performing at the party of a young six year old girl. It was the standard sort of party, many hyper children, lots of silly games and face painting galore.
One little boy was having his face painted. What he was going to be, monster, skeleton etc escapes me. But he gave me the best laugh I have ever had in my career to date. The table for the face painting was set up to my right, I always made sure that it was within my vision should any problems occur, that way I could step in or announce something over the PA system and generally act as support for the other entertainer – she in turn would do the same for me. Positioned so that she could keep an eye on the party from her position at the table.
A girl was happily dancing around quite close to the table and being the inquisitive young thing that she was she danced over to the boy getting his face painted to ask what he was going to be. The boy looked at her from foot to face before turning to Amanda (my support entertainer at the time) and saying – “Tell her to go away she is fat” – gesturing to the somewhat plump dancing girl.
Amanda stifled a laugh and promptly said “That isn’t very nice – don’t say that” in a genuinely warm but light reprimand.
The boy did not even miss a beat before coming back with the reply “My mummy told me to always tell the truth and that girl is VERY fat!” – You can’t fault that logic.
It is very hard to run a game of Musical Chairs when you are trying not to laugh through your microphone.
Magician and Magic Circle President
I would like to take the time to be a little bit more serious and talk about the wonderful Ali Bongo. It is with great sadness that I have to say that Ali Bongo passed away on Sunday morning at 9am. Paul Daniels broke the news to the magic world via Twitter.
Ali was a one off, he was a really remarkable man. When I was 12 years old and a member of the young magicians club I remember fondly meeting him at The Magic Circle HQ. He was very friendly, knew more about magic than anyone I had met and was so free and easy with his time and his advice.
Since he has died so many little stories about him have popped up online from magicians all over the country and all over the world. It just shows that he touched the lives of many magicians. Not only that, since I posted my status on Facebook on Sunday morning I received messages from people who were not in the magic fraternity - just regular people - and they loved him too. Watching him on TV in their childhood.
I will always remember the advice that Ali Bongo gave me about my presence on stage, I worked hard on it following that advice and it is because of him that I am a professional magician and entertainer now. He gave me many positive comments after my entrance exam to The Magic Circle and also offered me my first chance to perform at a Saturday Show at The Magic Circle. For all of his time, help and support I am very grateful. I will miss him and The Magic Circle will be a strange place to walk into tonight.
Yesterday I performed at The Magic Cavern in Barons Court. I broke the news to Richard when I arrived and he reacted in the same way as me. Ali had been an inspiration to him as well. I went out there yesterday to perform for Ali. Richard was kind enough to dedicate the show to him and I hope we did him proud. Ali loved magic and the magic world loved him in turn.
It's all for you Ali. All for you.
Friday, March 6, 2009
However, I did not realise the depths of my practical ineptitude until this week. I was working at Adele's house, doing show promotion, writing and generally updating my web designer with images and such when I received an email. Adele. She wondered if I could pop to the shop and get some bits for the house - Bread, milk, loo rolls. The usual household items.
Then she dropped the bombshell. Could I get her some light bulbs for the kitchen. Light bulbs? But there are literally hundreds of combinations - push sockets, screw brackets, energy saving, big ones, small ones, different wattage, different colours, different shapes - long ones, thin ones, perfectly round ones. To someone like me that does not appreciate the complex nature of electric lights I was not aware just how difficult this task would be. I responded to the email saying that I would go. Bread? No problem, milk? Not an issue. Loo Rolls? Bring it on! But bulbs? What size do you need? Adele replied (promptly) saying I should take one with me. Take a bulb with me? To the shop? Carry it down the road and match it up like a pre-school puzzle? I am afraid I cannot do that. Even a fool has limits to how stupid he would look when not wearing his cap'n'bells.
So Adele came up with another plan. Write down the details. That seemed much more sensible. I got the pen, got the paper and began to search for the box the bulbs came in to make a note of their size, shape, colour etc etc etc. No box. I emailed Adele again. (At this point I am sure she was becoming even more annoyed with my foolish incompetence in light of the simplicity of the task - pun intended!) Adele told me to take the bulb out and read the writing. Is it just me that was blindly unaware that the manufacturers of bulbs write the details on the side of them? I had no idea. Writing on a bulb to me seemed madness! I know most of you reading this will wonder how I am able to even manage to log into my blog to update it if I cannot buy a bulb.
I have actually only purchased bulbs once in my life. I got a desk lamp to sit in the studio and purchased a nice bright bulb to go with it. Since it has been in the lamp - two things have happened.
1) The bulb has melted a hole in the plastic case of the lamp and destroyed the rigid integrity of the plastic meaning it crumbles and flakes in a yellow mess whenever the lamp is moved.
2) The bulb, while pointed downward, has managed to melt the cases of three Cd's so that they cannot even be opened.
I explained this to Adele, told her I was happy to guess at a bulb size and put it back in the light, but she may well return to a hole in the ground where her kitchen used to be.
Suffice to say - the kitchen light remains without bulb.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
My esteemed friend, Mr Steve Lloyd, has asked a very interesting question. Where did the phrase tomfoolery come from and what is it actually all about? I have done a little bit of research and I think I may have found the answer.
In England, Tom, has always been a name used to describe people generally. For example in WWI and WWII the men in the trenches and on the front line were known as Tommys. We also have the phrase "Tom, Dick and Harry" which were used to describe anyone and everyone. (as well as the tunnels in Colditz) and other such phrases as "Tom Thumb" for small persons. Well, it is no surprise that Tomfoolery has similar origins.
Jesters were generally referred to as Tom Fool and over the years that has been changed to tomfoolery meaning someone that is foolish or something that causes mischief. So there we are Mr Lloyd, the origins of Tomfoolery for you. I have also discovered how other certain phrases and traditions have come from the time of the Jesters. I shall update again in the near future, but in the meantime if you have any questions about Jesting or anything of the like, let me know and I will do my best to answer for you.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
So, why did I decide to do the Jester gig? Well, one of my slightly geeky tendancies is toward history, especially when I can link it to my passion for magic and entertainment generally. I have always really enjoyed the middle ages and the medieval periods of English history and Jesters obviously played a massive part in that. It was a natural process to go from an interest in history to the history of the entertainment industry to Jesters. Some research led me to the links to The First Duke of Buckingham and Archy Armstrong, the King's Jester. A proposal to the Town Council and they agreed it would be a good idea. So the Jester of Buckingham was born.
I have found it a very natural character to slip into. I guess that there was perhaps a part of my personality that wanted to be one, I have always admired those that can clown and those that can amuse with silly antics, slapstick humour and wit, The Jester is the father of those traditions. To be one, an officially appointed Jester for the town of Buckingham, is a great honour and it is something that I am very proud of. I hope that in my time, serving the community in both charity work and public shows that I can raise some money, spread some joy and create some happiness along the way.